In Guayana, Hospitals Are Open, But All the Doctors Left

Raw sewage, no supplies, no doctors: in conditions like these, a hospital is just a building. But people have no place else to go.

Photo: Entorno Inteligente retrieved

“I’ve been having contractions all day and the doctors haven’t seen me because they don’t have resources,” said Madelein Rojas outside the Uyapar Hospital while she was getting ready to spend the night in the parking lot. “I’m going to stay here because they’ll have to see me even with the baby already born. If I had money to go to a private hospital, I’m even less likely to get attention there.”

Madelein’s isn’t an isolated case. In early November, a video of a woman giving birth in the street outside the Raúl Leoni Hospital in Guaiparo went viral, one of the largest of the country’s southeast, which used to see dozens of child births a day 15 years ago. As of November 6, it has no resources to bring a single child into the world.

The large hospitals of Ciudad Guayana have become another paradox of the Venezuelan reality: their emergency rooms and consultation rooms are overflowing with patients who need attention and there’s increasingly less personnel to serve them.

Already in April this year, the Chamber of Commerce of Caroní was warning about the repercussions of the diaspora on the health sector, and indicated that, at the time, 50% of the medical staff in clinics had resigned in order to leave the country, leaving vacant posts that are hard to fill.

As of November 6, the Raúl Leoni Hospital in Guaiparo has no resources to bring a single child into the world.

Ciudad Guayana’s Medical Association estimates that over 60% of specialists have left their posts in areas such as cardiovascular surgery, otorhinolaryngology and pediatric surgery. The largest hospital in the area, the Raúl Leoni of Guaiparo, is a training center for post-graduate specialists, but it currently lacks the professionals to fulfill this mission.

Raúl Leoni employees say that in the last three years, the hospital’s situation has been experiencing such a decline that it currently (sort of) works with only one out of the 12 installed operation rooms, and it lacks basic medical supplies such as antibiotics, syringes and compresses.

According to the report issued by the organization Transparencia Venezuela through its Observatory of Missions, Raúl Leoni doctors reported over 100 deaths of patients due to lack of resources in the first two months of 2018 alone.

The other large hospital in Ciudad Guayana, Uyapar, faces similar conditions. This week, the medical staff denounced that several areas have stopped working and others are close to shutdown.

Hugo Lezama, head of Ciudad Guayana’s Medical Association, added that the pediatric area also lacks an Intensive Care Unit, because the company that maintained the equipment left the country.

Guayana citizens are seeing their right to health violated with increasing intensity every day. In addition to the situation of “technical shutdown” in Ciudad Guayana’s two hospitals due to lack of staff, medical supplies, damaged equipment and even insalubrity, the Menca de Leoni Pediatric Hospital, the only one of its kind in the city, has been closed for months; it stopped offering medical attention on April 10 due to a lack of nearly 90% of medical supplies and overflowing sewage that grew so serious that the facilities had to be closed.

Since the Menca de Leoni was closed, its patients are transferred to Uyapar, which is already far beyond its service capacity. Guillermo Valderrama, chief of the pediatric service in the Guaiparo Hospital, says that “the problem isn’t just about the situation in Uyapar, but about the collapse of a health policy that has sadly failed.” Valderrama said that children and the elderly are the most affected by the collapse of medical attention.

Indira Campos says that she now has to tour the city’s medical centers in order to find the appointments for her mom’s private care. “My brothers and I used to be able to gather the money to take her to a private cardiologist, but now we can scarcely scrape enough to buy her pills. That’s why I have to cross the city in order to schedule her consultations, although it’s hard to find a cardiologist now.”

Guayana citizens are seeing their right to health violated with increasing intensity every day.

The crisis in Ciudad Guayana hospitals directly hits the medical staff. Nurses and other personnel say that they practically have to pay in order to go to work after the Venezuelan Institute of Social Security suspended their transport service early this year.

During the first three months of 2018, the nurses of the city’s hospitals staged almost a month of protests denouncing the decline of their salaries and quality of life, a situation that has intensified since President Nicolás Maduro standardized salaries as part of his economic measures announced in August.

The medical staff in Ciudad Guayana that usually covered the night shifts in various public and private centers in order to have an acceptable quality of life and even afford some luxuries, is now split between their professional practice and informal economy as an alternative to mitigate the economic crisis. Many healthcare professionals in Guayana, which used to be an icon of excellence in the area, are now selling food, clothes, trinkets and even second-hand items to try and make ends meet and keep exercising their professions in the land that once gave them the opportunity to grow.

Adriana Tovar

Journalist / Broadcaster / Defender of Human Rights & Guayanesa como el queso